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7 Things to Know About Rolfing If You Have Chronic Pain

by Sara Lindberg

To start: What’s Rolfing?

More than 30 percent of adults in the U.S. are living with chronic or severe pain. If you’re part of that statistic, you know how devastating living with severe or daily pain can be.

Treating chronic pain, defined as pain lasting 12 weeks or longer, depends on the underlying cause. For example, for musculoskeletal issues and inflammation, anti-inflammatory medications, ice, heat, and stretching can be beneficial.

For many people, taking prescription drugs long-term may not be the best option to treat pain. The good news is, there are other methods of managing chronic pain.

Different things work for different bodies and injuries: acupuncture, deep tissue massage, Epsom salt baths, anti-inflammatory diets, yoga, and more.

Rolfing Structural Integration is one technique people who live with daily pain might not have explored yet. Developed in the 1960s, Rolfing is increasing in popularity again in the alternative health community.

What is Rolfing?

To understand how this method is helping people get relief from chronic pain, you’ll need to an overview of Rolfing and how it’s different from just getting a deep tissue massage.

According to Certified Advanced Rolfer Jenny Rock, Rolfing is a systematic and holistic method of manipulating the muscle and fascia to help the body return to structural balance in movement and gravity.

Once this happens, Rock says the body’s natural mechanisms take over and finish the job of correcting these imbalances.

Makes sense, right? But how does the practitioner accomplish this?

“In a basic 10 series of Rolfing sessions, a Rolfing practitioner systematically addresses the places of strain, misalignment, and restricted motion that exist within the body pattern as a whole,” explains Russell Stolzoff, Certified Advanced Rolfer and senior faculty member at the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration.

“Sometimes where you feel pain is a point of strain within a larger pattern,” explains Stolzoff. That’s why working with the whole pattern can help diminish pain that is maintained or kept in place by the strain.

How is Rolfing different than a deep tissue massage?

  • While Rolfing might feel similar to a very deep massage, Rolfing practitioners will massage the muscles and fascia not only where you’re feeling pain, but all over your body. The goal is to fix your body’s posture and structure so that your body will correct any lingering imbalances that are causing the pain.

7 things you should know about Rolfing if you have chronic pain

With chronic pain, there’s a good chance you struggle to understand why your pain persists. Stolzoff says this is a common concern for both the practitioner and the person seeking relief.

“If pain being caused by a form of serious illness can be ruled out, the chances are good that Rolfing Structural Integration can play a positive role in the treatment of the condition,” he says.

Here are seven things that Rock and Stolzoff say you should know about Rolfing and chronic pain before deciding to move forward.

1. Rolfing may help chronic pain.

“You should know that Rolfing can be an effective non-medical, non-drug method to address chronic neuromuscular pain,” explains Stolzoff.

The Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine Comprehensive Pain Center has incorporated alternative and complementary therapies, including Rolfing, into their practices.

However, there’ve been limited studies on Rolfing’s effectiveness. Two small studies in 2014 and 2015 and found that Rolfing can decrease pain levels for people with fibromyalgia and lower back pain, at least in the short term.

2. Rolfing isn’t a quick fix.

“It took time to get into chronic pain, it will take some time to recover,” explains Rock. Her advice: be patient.

A good rule of thumb, she says, is that for every year of pain, allow yourself one month of weekly sessions. Although Rock says you should notice improvements with every session.

It’s also likely that you’re going to need to make ongoing lifestyle changes to assist in maintaining and furthering the changes from Rolfing. “This may include ergonomics, footwear, pillows, yoga, nutrition, etc.,” explains Rock.

3. Rolfing addresses structural (think postural) and functional (think movement) aspects of chronic pain.

Rolfing can be helpful when chronic stiffness, compression from injury or surgery, held postures that inhibit fluid motion, or repetitive motion are keeping your pain levels up.

4. Rolfing should never be painful.

Rolfing is frequently deep and sometimes intense and uncomfortable, yet Rock says that it’s never meant to be painful. “Rolfing should never be more uncomfortable than the chronic pain you’re already in,” she explains.

5. Rolfing may reveal other places of pain.

If you’ve been dealing with chronic pain, chances are that is the area you focus most of your energy on.

However, with Rolfing, Stolzoff says you’ll discover other places in your body that may be playing a role in your pain. Knowing this information can be helpful in your overall treatment plan.

6. Rolfing may uncover deeply held emotions.

Rock says to be aware that you may have emotions surface, on and off the table, since your tissues hold and release muscle memory. “This is frequently part of the healing process, so as strange as it may seem, it’s actually helpful,” she explains.

7. Rolfing requires a skilled practitioner.

Rolfing, especially for chronic pain, needs to be done by a certified and skilled practitioner. Rock suggests you find a Rolfer that you connect with since it’s a very personal process.

And the best part? There’s virtually no risk to trying Rolfing, and there are no side effects.

“I always tell my clients that it’s an experiment,” says Stolzoff. “If it works, then great. But if it doesn’t, there is no harm done.”

To find a certified Rolfer, visit the Rolf Institute’s website.

Sara Lindberg, BS, MEd, is a freelance health and fitness writer. She holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a master’s degree in counseling. She’s spent her life educating people on the importance of health, wellness, mindset, and mental health. She specializes in the mind-body connection, with a focus on how our mental and emotional well-being impact our physical fitness and health.

Article Resources

  • Jacobson EE, et al. (2015). Structural integration as an adjunct to outpatient rehabilitation for chronic nonspecific back pain: A randomized pilot clinical trial.
  • Johannes C, et al. (2014). The Prevalence of Chronic Pain in United States Adults: Results of an Internet-Based Survey.
  • National Institutes of Health. (2015). NIH analysis shows Americans are in pain [Press release].
  • Rock J. (2018). Personal interview.
  • Stall P, et al. (2014). Fibromyalgia syndrome treated with the structural integration Rol?ng method. DOI:
  • Stolzoff S. (2018). Personal interview.


Medically reviewed by Daniel Bubnis, MS, NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS on September 7, 2018 — Written by Sara Lindberg